Genetic disease leads to mysterious swelling in Houston woman

It sounds like an allergic reaction, but is something very different

HOUSTON – Genetics, hormones or stress--imagine if just about everything inside your own body was a potential threat to your health.

"The windpipe can swell shut and then you can't breathe," Linda Miller explained.

It sounds like an allergic reaction, something you think could be treated quickly, but it’s very different for patients like Miller.

"We can show up to the emergency room with the same symptoms and we get the same medication, and it doesn't touch us. I mean, it doesn't make a bit of difference," she said.

That's because Miller is not allergic to anything. Her kind of swelling is completely random.

"Dental procedures can precipitate an attack, a trauma and sports or accidents can trigger it; most cases we don't have a specific trigger that we can identify," said Dr. David Huston, associate dean at Texas A&M College of Medicine's Houston campus.

Dr. Huston is an expert on hereditary angioedema or HAE. He said the illness is genetic and caused by a lack of protein in blood.

"The consequence of having insufficient amounts leads to a situation where you can get edema, swelling, that can occur anywhere on the skin, on the mucous membranes, in the gut," Huston said.